Creative decisions that are right for you.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Taking my time to find the right position.

Time to take a look at cutting and fitting the new rear mudguard. There is much talk in bike building circles about getting the stance of your bike right as a prerequisite for coming up with anything good looking. There is a school of thought that is very prevalent currently to have the line of the bike very flat. That’s to say, the visual line from the back of the seat running through the base of the tank to the front suspension should be pretty much parallel to the ground. Hence you see lots of bikes that are all starting to look the same and share the almost totally flat seat which is almost ubiquitous in its manifestation. This is all well and good if you’ve got the time, money and the need to go down this route. Personally I haven’t. As I’ve mentioned before, without resorting to large amounts of frame modification  (read expensive welding bills and jiggery) and spending a whole pile of cash on different suspension equipment, there’s not much one can do beyond a certain point. The creative challenge is therefore to move away from the standard look enough to create difference and come up with something that works with the proportions one is presented with. This can be a lot harder than you think, but it is possible on a very limited budget and is generally a case of taking ones time in positioning, cutting and mounting components. Once you’ve cut metal there’s very little you can do to rescue things, so it pays to exercise patience and adopt a methodical approach no matter how quickly you want the project to be completed.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Position set, holes drilled, just the light to mount.

Of course, what “looks right” is a purely subjective conclusion. Because these kinds of projects are pretty personal in their nature, the result must first be right for you, in your own eyes. That’s the most important thing really. Decisions you make in a build are always contextualised by a whole host of factors and compromises that one has had to deal with on the journey to the final outcome. Others may not like your final iteration but then invariably they have little knowledge of this context. As a maker, of anything, one has the luxury of knowing that you could change or modify things in future if the urge takes you, but it’s an option that you can reserve to exercise if you so choose.

When I first built this bike I made a pile of decisions about how it would look based how I felt about the life it would lead, about practical issues like comfort and durability as much as aesthetic considerations. I reserved the right to change things if I wanted to but generally didn’t feel the need to do much other than periodic tweaking. Now, some time later, it is time to make some changes  based on living with it and riding it for a few years. There are still certain things about the stance I can do little about, but these are not a problem. The bike started life as a factory custom and so caries with it some small legacies of that life which I’m happy to live with, like the long forks and the steep rake of the tank.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

A rather blurry shot courtesy of my iPad, but you get the idea.

So here are some shots showing the process of getting the new rear mudguard (fender) sitting in the right place, at the right angle in the right way. Once I’d cut the bare rolled section I’d bought to roughly the correct length I spent ages with bits of foam, tape and cups of tea trying it in different positions to get the look I was after. Once I was happy I marked the mounting holes for drilling and returned to the shed for some hole making. The critical factor was getting enough section over the wheel without it looking overly long but still having enough curve available to support the light/plate assembly at the right angle. I didn’t think things had changed much until I held up the new piece next to the old one to see that I’d actually reduced the length by about 150mm, very satisfying.

The final shot shows the guard in place with the light mounted and everything else ready to go. The final piece of this refresh is painting the petrol tank, which I’m currently working on a design for and I’ll be posting about that very soon.

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Advice and opinion, don’t confuse the two.

Instruments: before, big and busy. After, uncluttered and simple.

Instruments: before, big and busy. After, uncluttered and simple.

There is a big difference between advice and opinion. One serves to guide and promote discourse, and the other invariably confuses things and promotes argument. I learned the difference between the two a long time ago and am constantly reminded of that lesson. When seeking advice we are generally hoping to tap into the accumulated knowledge and experience of others whose judgement we trust. Opinion on the other hand is generally something that follows acting upon advice and is subjective, unless of course, the other person has misconstrued your original query, in which case you get a whole load of one when you wanted the other. When I’m engaged in making stuff I ask for advice, when I need it, from other makers I know, and I might canvas their opinion when I’ve finished what I’m doing, but not before.

New headlight brackets and new front indicator light mounts.

New headlight brackets and new front indicator light mounts.

If I’d followed all of the unsolicited “advice” I’d been given about how my bike should be, then I would have wasted a great deal of money and time on what is essentially a cheap form of transport. Working within an admittedly self imposed tight budget, and with time pressure to match, the solutions that interest me are those which are simple, relatively easy to execute and fit for purpose. It is with this in mind that I approach everything I do on this build and it helps to steer things clear of needless expense and wasted effort. One day I might build something more special but, for now I’ll work with what I’ve got. Sorting out the instrument area and the headlight would have been “better” if I’d totally stripped the bike of all electrics, cable drives and other bits, but that doesn’t clear the deck, it just opens up a whole new avenue of expensive solutions to a new set of problems. Working with what’s there meant splitting the clocks to allow cable drives to flex more freely and shorter light mounts to keep things close in and fairly tidy. The bundle of wiring needed to keep things working would stay, although shortened and repackaged. I’d bought some ‘P’ clips some time ago thinking they’d do for mounting the light on the forks and so put them to use. they work well enough for now though I may make replacements with a tighter fit later on. I drew up some side brackets on some graph paper (brilliant for laying out simple parts to scale) and transferred the design onto some aluminium alloy for cutting out. I made a new speedo mount based on what had been there before, but with a 20 degree offset and modified the mounting that came with the tachometer when I bought it, to bring it closer to the handlebar. All this allowed me to raise the light and split the clocks, and try to keep things as low as possible. By tilting the bars back further I was getting near to where I wanted the front to be. It looks a lot more sparse than before, but I’ll get used to it. And the natty little fly screen has gone.

I was very fond of it, but it had to go. A quick word about making those side brackets. Because I’d drawn them out on graph paper, it was easy to draw them again on alloy sheet, you remember all the numbers. I cut them out using a jigsaw, slowly, with a blade for metals at slow speed. I finished them off with hand files and drilled the holes with a hand drill. It takes time but not as long as you’d think and the result is pretty tidy once they’ve had a rub down with 600 grade wet and dry paper.

Here’s a canny bit of advice given to me by my father just before I started this: when filing soft metals, rub chalk along your files, it stops them from clogging. He was right, it did too. You can’t beat good advice. His opinion? Well, he didn’t have one, he’s waiting until I’ve finished to give me that.

The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

Ready for the Gentleman's Ride.

Getting togged up for an autumn sunday ride normally involves donning your favourite jacket, picking out some warmer gloves, pulling on those comfy old boots and changing the helmet visor for one not so darkly tinted. It does not usually involve pressing a clean shirt, selecting an appropriately coloured neck tie, applying polish to shiny black shoes, fiddling with cuff links and putting on a suit. But this is exactly what I found myself doing last Sunday as I prepared myself for the London staging of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride.

 

Initiated a few months ago by a bunch of guys in Australia in an effort to bring Cafe Racer and modified bike riding people together, the event has spread across the globe encompassing groups in cities across Australia, North America, Europe and beyond. The basic idea, to dress up nice and smart and gather at a pre-arranged location, before setting out across town together for a gentle ride to a destination where we can all park up, have a good chat and enjoy a drink (no-alcoholic of course).

 

As you can see I elected to take the 250, being the most modified of my two bikes. After a quick polish on the Saturday, and resplendent in its new fork gaiters and mini Bates style headlight, it certainly looked the part. The little bike performed perfectly, managing to hold its head high amongst a sea of much larger, more eye catching and certainly more noisy machinery. There must have been about sixty of us in total.

 

It would be impossible to estimate the number of photographs taken on the day by various attendees suffice to say that various albums are now posted on various sites. Anyone interested can find them at the excellent page for The Bike Shed here http://www.facebook.com/BikeShedMotorcycleClub  and at other various locations like the Sideburn Blog here: http://sideburnmag.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/distinguished-gentlemans-ride-photos.html .

 

It was an excellent day and a huge thanks must go to Adam and the guys at the Bike Shed MCC for putting in the effort to organise a brilliant event. Great people on lots of great bikes. Roll on the next one, it can only get bigger.

 

Cafe Racer No.6, finally.

Cafe Racer No.6

It’s raining, it must be June. Whilst the bad weather this weekend has done its best to put a massive dampener on anyone taking part in celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, in my case it has succeeded in driving me indoors, away from the distractions of motorcycling and into the chair in front of my drawing table. Unable to feel the tug of a sunny afternoon and a spin on the 250, a final spurt of creative energy means that the final drawing in the Cafe Racer series is now complete. Why this drawing has taken so long to finish could have something to do with the fact that all spare time over the last week has been taken up by constructing, fitting and painting a new front gate and posts, and giving the front door a once over. It may also have something (more) to do with nerves. When a drawing gets to a critical stage it can often be the case that I approach completing the final details with some trepidation, messing it up at a late stage is a huge risk. Biro is a fantastic medium, but you can never ever erase it. Once it’s down, that’s it. But it’s done now and other projects can start to take shape while I learn to breathe again!

The second part of todays double header is another lining paper sketch that didn’t make the final selection. It’s nearly there but not quite, very much a case of “ close, but no cigar”.  I was attempting to show some speed in the image without resorting to ending up with a huge blur. Various elements of the figure trailing off into the slipstream left behind. It’s something I have seen others do much more successfully than I’ve managed in this case, so there is some work to be done to get it working and may very well benefit from being tried again using a different medium. It is something worth aiming for as the alternative is the rather obvious big blurry background, and I’m not quite in the mood for one of those just yet. I’ll post my experiments as I go so you’ll soon see how things are progressing.

 

 

The 250 build, nearing the end.

A slight diversion today as finishing the story of the 250 build is way overdue. So some words and pictures of painted bits, metal bits and a nice piece of leather.

 

With three coats of base black applied, a series of white stripes were then masked and added. Everything was left for a couple of days to harden up before a very fine rub over with extra fine paper prior to the lacquer going on. For reasons of cost more than anything I’d elected to use rattle can lacquer rather than 2-pack on all parts apart from the fuel tank, which would be treated to a good couple of coats of petrol resistant lacquer, again from a rattle can. In retrospect I wish I’d gone the 2-pack route but it made the whole paint phase way too expensive, the petrol proof stuff works well but has yellowed in places and was quite tricky to apply evenly. With the lacquer all hardened it was time for a good polish and I can’t recommend Autoglym Super Resin Polish enough. Fantastic stuff and everything was just so shiny shiny.

Two important pieces of metalwork remained to be fabricated as all the painted parts made their way onto the bike for the final assembly. I knew the area at the back of the seat needed tidying but hadn’t been able to do much about it without the seat so it was stroke of luck that the seat arrived back just in time from being recovered. The first task was to make a piece to shut off the open area between the new mudguard and the seat mounting assembly. this then wrapped over the seat mount and formed an infill sitting below the rear of the seat base moulding.As before I worked it all out with thin card first which meant I could create a pretty accurate template for marking and cutting the sheet steel which was cut flat and then bent up in the bench vice.

For ages I’d been wondering how to finish off the rear of the seat. Knowing that there would have to be some kind of cover plate didn’t seem enough, there needed to be something else in there to give a more finished look. The answer came to me out cycling one day when I spotted and old bicycle with a little pouch hung from the back of the saddle. I ventured onto the internet to see what I could find for motorcycles. As it turned out, not too much unless I wanted something that looked like it had fallen off the back of John Wayne’s horse, and tassels are definitely not my thing. Taking the bicycle route proved more fruitful and in a fit of extravagance I splashed out on this lovely little number from Brooks the saddle makers. I quickly made up an angle bracket to fix the panel to, mounted to the seat base, and again using some card drew around the profile of the seat and transferred it to another template for cutting. A couple of holes and two slots later I had a neat little cover panel that the pouch straps attached to directly.

 

With these two new parts painted black final assembly could continue apace, my deadline for borrowing the workshop was looming.

 

 

 

Getting ready to paint.

All the prep was worth it.

Before getting stuck in to the painting of the bike parts I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I’ve learned about spray painting. This is not a definitive list of top tips merely some things I’ve picked up over the years through being taught basic technique and learning from some ugly mistakes.

My memory is full of useful tips passed on to me and hard learned lessons about putting paint onto objects. The first is that paint and its application is nothing to be scared of and secondly, that the process rewards the patient. All manner of practical skill areas are full of old maxims and adages that seasoned practitioners swear by, and for good reason. One that applies to painting anything is the six P’s, and it goes like this: “preparation and patience prevent piss poor performance”. The first two P’s are the critical ones I think. Over the years, working in modelmaking, prototyping and design it has been an often painful experience to witness hours of painstaking work be reduced to scrap because of a lack of patience and prep in the paint phase. For some unknown reason people often behave as if paint were some magical substance that has the ability to apply itself and achieve the most perfect of finishes by its own volition. This is not so of course. Paint needs a lot of help to do what it’s meant to do properly and, give you a finish that is both beautiful and durable. Paint needs time so the more you can allocate to it the better. Planning out all of the various steps that you will need to go through is a good habit as it allows you to tackle things in batches rather than individually, piece by piece.

It’s also worth taking time to prepare the area you’ll be working in with as much attention to detail as the part you’re going to spray. Dust and other airborne particles are your enemy so minimising their presence is worth it too. Sprayguns, mixing pots, stirring sticks and turntables all have the capacity to ruin your finish so making sure they are clean and dust free helps too. Similarly, cover up surrounding areas with dust sheets as any overspray will cover everything in the vicinity with a fine layer of dust which you will only have to clean off later. Obviously if you have a dedicated spray booth this helps but giving it a good clean is never a bad thing. In fact if you can hang some dust sheets around your work area forming a kind of cubicle to spray in it’s worth doing, but make sure you’ve got a bit of air flow in there.

There are many different paint systems out there so it’s valuable to know your paints. Ask your local supplier, research on the internet or talk to an experienced hand but, always make sure that your primers, top coats and lacquers are compatible with each other and with the material your object is made of. Nothing disappoints more than a top coat that crazes over a different formulation primer or decals that gently dissolve as the first coat of lacquer goes on. If you’re in any doubt, ask. Finding and getting to know your local paint specialist is well worth the cost of any time invested. Experts love giving advice if you ask for it nicely anyway.

Whether you’re using rattle cans or a spray gun apparatus, the technique is essentially the same. Any differences are really in how much control you can excerpt over each method. A can comprises paint, gun and air supply, or propellant, in one convenient vessel. Using a gun requires a compressor and all manner of sundry bits and bobs to effect the same result. But the can doesn’t allow you to control air pressure or flow, paint flow or paint consistency. Often the final result is reliant on knowing the limitations of each method and working within those parameters. It’s amazing what you can do with a spray can if you follow basic rules, and it’s staggering what messes I’ve witnessed people create with a spray gun set up.

Spraying to a high level requires a good deal of rubbing down between coats to key surfaces and to gently eliminate surface irregularities. Sadly there is no quick way to do this. But it helps to use warm water with your wet and dry paper whenever you can. It not only helps keep the grit on the paper from clogging, obviously, but also stops your hands from getting freezing cold in the process. Despite it being very tempting to rip into old paint with coarse grit paper to speed removal, it only ends up putting deep scratches into the base material which you only have to remove as well. It’s surprising how much paint you will need to eliminate all the scratches.

Spraying to a high level requires a good deal of rubbing down between coats to key surfaces and to gently eliminate surface irregularities. Sadly there is no quick way to do this. But it helps to use warm water with your wet and dry paper whenever you can. It not only helps keep the grit on the paper from clogging, obviously, but also stops your hands from getting freezing cold in the process. Despite it being very tempting to rip into old paint with coarse grit paper to speed removal, it only ends up putting deep scratches into the base material which you only have to remove as well. It’s surprising how much paint you will need to eliminate all the scratches.

If you can, and have the room, create separate areas for paint mixing and storage, spraying and drying. Helping to minimise contamination from one part of the process to another can save a job from ruin. Small splashes from mixing and cleaning can travel a lot further than you think. It also enables you to store your paint and work piece at the same temperature. Cold paint on a warm object and vice versa can often be a sure fire way to achieve a dodgy finish.

As a final cautionary note, always wear an appropriate mask or respirator. Those flimsy paper things may protect you from some dust but not some of the rather nasty solvents that paints often contain. And get some protective gloves too, vinyl or latex. Personally I use vinyl as latex can irritate my skin, and ones without talcum powder keep your hands free of white dust that only ends up on the work piece if you’re not careful.

So there’s a bit of background to set the stage for spraying up the bodywork parts.

A return to the bike build.

 

 

Minimal fuel tank!

In the last installment of the bike build, which was let’s face it, too long ago and must be wrapped up soon, the exhaust was coming together. In order for me to be able to hear the results as the pipe came together a small tupperware container got a makeshift outlet fitted into its base and was then mounted to the main frame spar with a cable tie. With a bit of fuel onboard the engine could be started and run without the fuel tank in place and the exhaust listened to. The tank meanwhile was being prepped for painting.

The “silencer” that had been ordered came with an internal baffle already, if that’s what you could call it. You see these pipes everywhere on custom modified bikes so it will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever had one that internally they are rudimentary to say the least. There was a piece of glass fibre packing inside the pipe but this was as good as useless. It would have disintegrated if you’d held it behind you and broken wind, frankly. So, first job was to get some proper packing material and firmly wrap the baffle so at least some of the noise could be absorbed. It was still too loud.

After a quick discussion about exhausts with the guys who’s workshop I was borrowing it was decided that the best thing to do was make a smaller secondary baffle that would fit into the end of the main pipe. Reckoning that the area of the holes in the internal cylinder should match that of the outlet it was time to have a go with the MIG welder. Not having used one much before, a quick session on the net provided some basic guidance to supplement the rather sketchy instructions contained in the user manual.

So a few hours later we had a finished baffle piece that fitted into the end of the main one that could be secured with three self tapping screws. Easy to remove and modify if need be and pretty much hidden behind the reverse cone end cap of the silencer. A couple of coats of aerosol heat resistant paint and the job was a good ‘un. This made a real difference to the sound and would be easy to remove if greater fruitiness from the pipe was wanted.This was the last fabrication job to do before the final build. What was up next was the biggest job of all, painting the bodywork.

 

Before moving on to that episode here are a couple of thoughts about MIG welding. Never having done any before, the thought of using the welder was a little daunting. Welding in all its forms has always come across as a bit of a black art, a deeply skillful craft practiced by wizards of metalwork with years and years of experience. This is all true but, it is also not as scary as it would seem. They say that every journey starts with the first step and so it is with MIG welding. Taking the plunge and having a go can lead you, with patience and concentration, to a thoroughly satisfying learning experience and hopefully a new found skill, and a finished part that you can be proud of.

 

My own introduction to this skill took me from making a simple baffle on the first day to knocking up a small paddock stand for the bike, to use during routine maintenance as I’d seen fit to remove the centre stand as part of the weight loss program. All within a week.

 

As mentioned before the manual that came with the welder was a little thin and searching the internet for tips and tricks threw up some really useful information and some tips which I never would have considered in my inexperience. Here are a couple of links to the two most useful websites found. The first one was the best: Firstly Tips and tricks and the second one here. Sadly the need for welding anything in my everyday work is rare but it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to buy a welder and start making something.

 

Although my skills remain relatively basic I’m no longer reluctant to consider using a welder for smaller jobs. Welding bike frames is something best left to experts for now but, with a new skill in the back pocket, the options available when making more complex ancillary parts has now grown and that can only be a good thing for when the next project comes along.

 

The welder used was a small portable unit with up to 150W of power, switchable. It had a variable speed wire feed, a small remote gas bottle (Carbon Dioxide/Argon mix worked best) and nice hefty earthing clamp.